August-September 2013

February 28, 2014

After making my way back from my pilgrimage to Iowa, I decided it was time to convert my piles of interlocking bricks into a nice driveway. So I called in the dirt movers again to grade the driveway properly for drainage and level parking. I also had acquired some free fill from a neighbor building a house, which went into the low spot in the back of the yard where some water was still pooling when big rain or Spring thaw happened. I was on a fairly tight time-line, since I wanted to have the job done before we left for our big trip to Peru on Sept 16.


After the grading, landscaping fabric was laid down a truckload of sand dropped onto it and carefully spread and graded. This was the base for laying the interlocking bricks. By my calculations with the number of bricks in hand I could construct a driveway from garage front to street which was 14 ft wide. So I set about placing the bricks and driving them firmly in place with a 2 lb hammer and a wooden block to keep from cracking bricks. Started at the garage entrance and began to work my way toward the street. I used a brick pattern which although more complex, claims to be better at weight distribution and prevention of surface distortion/disturbance of the bricks. You did have to be thinking all the time to make sure you were following the pattern. When I had to make a bend in the driveway to finish perpendicular(or nearly so) to the street, there was a lot of creativity in cutting and fitting bricks to make the transition. This was a time and muscle/back intensive job, taking a couple weeks to accomplish and drawing lots of onlookers and comments.

In order to keep the bricks from “walking” outward with vehicle movement on the the surface, I decided to install a mini-retaining wall on the edges. I happened to have a pile of slightly damaged cement blocks from the primary construction of the house still setting back by my tool shed. So hauled them up with my lawn tractor and trailer and dug them down around the edges so the tops were just flush with bricks. The strategy then was to fill the cores and the tops of the blocks with vibrated concrete, giving a strong border extending 8 inches below brick tops. I also had enough bricks and blocks to install a brick walkway from edge of driveway to edge of breezeway.

Concrete work continued apace and before I knew it it was approaching travel time again, this time our adventure to Peru. Elena arrived from Newfoundland, had a day of recovery and then we did a lightning trip across the border to do some Bank business, allowing her to have an interac card to get Yankee dollars at ATMs when we were traveling. The driveway brick and retaining edge work was all complete cleanly before the run up to travel. Then the US excursion morning before flight to Peru, that evening we drove to Toronto, staying in an airport hotel, leaving the car in long-term parking and taking a shuttle to the airport. Just over 2 weeks of incredible adventure in Peru, Lima, Macchu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and home.

June-August 2013

February 25, 2014

There wasn’t much left of June by the time I put Elena on the plane back to Newfoundland, and it took a few days before I got back into my rhythm of doing “stuff”. Among first things to get at was finish of the window trim and stain and varnish of the same in the workshop area and the window framing in the garage.


I also set about installing aluminum fascia in the exterior door frames, on the beams and posts of the breezeway and to instal the final set of exterior trim on door frames and the windows in the screen porch. When I got the original Hardie Board cement board trim I could get factory painted battens only if I bought a whole pallet of the same. Unfortunately I needed more than a whole pallet, and so the remainder to finish the trim was just primed and I had to paint it. These jobs were at the top my agenda beginning in late June.

Another project being done in parallel was the final finishing of a table I had acquired at an auction sale in Iowa in 2007. I had stripped the old finish when staying to take care of my mother while my sis and her husband flew off for their daughter’s wedding in Hawaii. Now I finally got round to doing the oil rubbed finish to replace the old varnish which I had removed. It is a lovely simple drop-leaf table made of cherry with three additional leaves that can be inserted to give a length to seat a substantial gathering.

While I was chugging away at these things I had communications from my sis in Iowa that my Mom was having some health issues and was in hospital for a few days to deal with a bout of aspiration pneumonia. After a bit of back and forth and deciding it was time for a visit I scheduled my trip to see Gladys and Paul and my Mom, but also to catch the annual Hoekman family reunuion another day’s drive west from there in Monroe SD. By the time I got to Iowa my Mom was back in the Cresco Senior’s home and again pretty chipper. As usual we played Scrabble. It is pretty sad, my siblings and I brag when we manage to beat our 95 year-old mother at Scrabble; usually she whips usūüôā

So I had a little more than a week away from duties to visit family and trek across the midwest in the States. I must comment that the family reunion, while still a significant gathering is a shadow of its former size. The older generation is disappearing, and the younger generations are much more widely scattered and less connected to the old center of family history.

January through April 2013

February 21, 2014

January 9 I flew back from Newfoundland and was back into at least some house finishing activities. Elena and I decided we were to make trip to Peru in the Fall to see Macchu Picchu and other bucket list sites in that interesting country. So lots of internet arranging for the trip. Elena’s friend from Peru told us it was easy and much cheaper to arrange your own tour which we/I set out to do. Got off to a shaky start with a malfunction of an internet reservation site that resulted in two extra plane reservations that told me the reservation had failed before making one on a different site, that told me I had been successful. That took a lot of “sturm and drang” and phone calls plus a few weeks before the charges were removed from credit cardūüė¶

I was also rehearsing for a concert with LPM scheduled near end of February, and my ENT had scheduled me for surgery February 21 to “ream and clean” my sinuses of nasal polyps. These to those who don’t suffer are a consequence of allergies and this was my second surgery, the first happening nearly 30 years earlier. My family doc had me get a head cat scan to see the status of my sinuses before my referral to the ENT. When it came back and he was showing it to me, his comment was: How do you breathe?

Anyway I was also slogging away at getting trim installed, stained and varnished in the workshop. Just to keep life interesting Elena’s cousins in Brooklyn NY were to celebrate the wife’s 90th birthday in Mid March, and had recently celebrated the husband’s 97th. Elena was going to fly out, so to join the celebration I planned to drive to NYC on February 14, and made reservations on Airbnb at a place near the celebration site.

Things went well with the trim work, and the choir rehearsals were also good, the unfortunate thing being that my surgery was on Feb 21 and the concert on the 23rd. I was hoping my post-op condition would let me sing, but discretion being the better part of valor, the continued oozing of my surgery made me sit that one out.

However by the time I had to depart for NYC my sinuses were much happier, and I set out for Brooklyn at the crack of dawn with a few snow flurries happening. By the time I got to London, it had turned into much more threatening conditions, very slick roads and an 18 wheeler had jackknifed across the oncoming side of the 401 about 30 km up the road and pretty much stopped traffic from both directions. I continued on at a safer snails pace and finally drove out of the nasty roads as I crossed the border into the US at Hamilton. Then made very good travel time getting to my accommodations only a couple hours later than I had anticipated. A good time was had by all, a few days visiting with family and the big birthday party. Then me back to Newbury and Elena to St. John’s and her classes.

Not long after getting back to Newbury it was time to seed the grass in the newly landscaped terrain around the house. I had made a trip to the US in Michigan to get moulding trim and a vanity and toilet for the bathroom in workshop as well as grass seed.

One of the first outside jobs with Spring weather was to prepare the soil and spread grass seed. I borrowed a harrow from my friend Ron up the street and and dragged it around with my lawn tractor to loosen up the surface a bit before applying the seed I brought back from Michigan.


After missing the February LPM Concert because of my sinus surgery, I did succeed in singing the Gilbert and Sullivan fundraiser concert in April, as well as the Voiceprints Spring Concert. Elena was completing her final term of teaching before retiring, and then flew out to Ontario. After a few days of recovery we loaded up into the VW camper and headed across the border to spend May and early June in Sarasota. When we crossed the border at Sombra-Marine City for some reason the US customs decided we were suspicious, and did a complete dis-assembly of everything in the van. After more than an hour of inquisition we were finally on our way. We had a brief stop in Louisville to visit my sister Trish and her husband Del, and then onward to Sarasota. A bit more than a month enjoying sun and warm, Elena running every day and me riding my bike for at least 20 km pretty much every day. Then in early June back north up the Atlantic coast via Jacksonville and then up through Savannah and a stop in Greenville, SC with Elena’s cousin. From there back meandering across the south back to Ohio and back up to cross the border at Detroit-Windsor and home to Newbury. Then shortly Elena was back to Newfoundland and I was back to work on house stuff.

October-November 2012

February 7, 2014

After bringing the VW van back to Ontario, I had lots of stuff to do on the house with a tight timeline since I was going to be heading back to Newfoundland for the Christmas holidays. My initial activities were split between finishing up the trim on window frames in the main part of the house, and staining and varnishing them. I then alternated to fabricating more patio blocks to surface the area between screen porch platform and the workshop wall.

The first task in preparation for the patio blocks was to cut some of the interlocking bricks down the middle with my wet diamond saw. Putting them together on the boundary gave me a nice straight edge for the transition to the patio blocks. I also was working at installing the plywood frames for the windows in the workshop/garage.

On my agenda was getting the landscaping done with the removal of what Elena called “Hoekman Mountain” in the back yard to make the topsoil grading around the house. This included filling the low spot in the back corner which periodically became “Lake Hoekman”. After discussion with my dirt moving contractor and measurement of the actual grade differences around the lot, and initial plan to install a drainage tile, was replaced with production of a drainage swale which would lead the precipitation runoff to the storm drain at the front of my property.

One of the first tasks when the earth moving equipment arrived was to move the interlocking paving bricks which I had acquired earlier for the driveway, to a location nearer the driveway. These were “walk-on” supplies, A guy drove by one day and asked if I was interested in paving bricks, and I replied if they match the house and the price is right. So he brought me a couple samples, and after a bit of dickering, for $500 I had them and he delivered them to me on pallets.


Then it was on to the big job, distributing the stockpiled topsoil which was in two piles on the south side of the house and garage/workshop. There were two machine at it, and mini digger and a skid steerer. The following gallery shows the progress as they moved dirt to taper the landscape from the house out into the back yard. Some was moved around to the front yard to even out the landscape there tapering to the driveway. The rest went into evening out the low spot in the back corner referred to by some as Lake Hoekman, when there was big rain or big snow melt.

The next day they finished the job and created the drainage swale to take the water away from the low spot in the back to the storm sewer drain in front of the garage. After everything had been leveled out and some rain fallen, I found another bit of archeology, the broken bowl of a clay pipe which I believe was a 19th century artefact.

When this was finished, and I had sung another years version of Messiah with London Pro Musica and Symphony London, it was off to Newfoundland for the holidays on December 7.

June – July 2012

January 31, 2014

After Elena flew back to Newfoundland I settled down to some serious house completion issues.   First was laying the interlocking brick in the path from entry door under the breezeway to the entry door of the workshop.  I had acquired the bricks in early days of construction in trade for a case of Coors Light :)  Now they became my walkway.

I then set about completing work on my patio in front of the south-facing windows of the great room dining area. First I had a truck load of fill sand delivered, and when opportunity arose a fellow with a skid-steer working next door delivered the sand into the retaining wall. I then leveled and compacted it with my gandy dancer dirt tamper (You figure that out:) ) Filled the space up to about 1 1/2 inch of top of retaining wall, so the top of patio blocks would be flush with it.

I decided to manufacture my own patio blocks, since I had some portland cement and a pile of cement gravel and reinforcing mesh left from earlier cement work. I was able to borrow a concrete stamp and releasing liquid from my friend Craig Morley so the top of the block was to be stamped with an Italian Slate pattern. It turned out that the small stamp of his set, was 22 inches square, which coincidentally gave me a perfect fit for 4 blocks to reach from retaining wall to house edge. I built forms on sheets of plywood fastened to pallets which had been under concrete blocks delivered to my site. They were structured so I could remove the end piece, and insert a prybar under the edge to lift the block out of the form when it had cured for 24 hours.

In between batches of cement going into the forms, I kept at other bits that needed to be done. Working on getting the plywood liners into the window wells, and geting them stained and varnished. I also decided to run a pex line from my well pump near the edge of my property up to the edge of the house where I was more a more useful water outlet for lawn and garden and for cement mixing. This was another gift from the guys at CPE, left over from a job they did with a sort of non-standard pex size, 5/8″ instead of 1/2 or 3/4. Anyway I dug the trench, laid the pex and underground rated electrical cable and then covered again with dirt and sod about 8 inches below surface. Not deep enough to escape freezing in the winter but out of the way of lawn mower and other landscaping implements.

Supposedly the VW van in Newfoundland was to have the transplant done by a professional mechanic friend of my son-in-law Dean. Unfortunately this fellow lost one of his regular helpers in the shop, and was no longer able to schedule the job. Hence it was to be just Dean and me to do the honors in completing the transplant of manual transmission and accessories. Anyway on July 22, Kenn Cochrane one of my neighbors took me into London where I caught an airport shuttle to Toronto Pearson and flew from there to St John’s. With a bit of delay we were into it but it took while to get job done. Dean had a recurrence of major muscle spasms in his back when we were about 2/3s done so I had a significant bit where I was mostly on my own to get it finished up. I did feel the need put it together and drive it enough with short haul trips to be sure nothing was going to fall apart before hitting the road for the big jump back to Ontario. I am sorry now but did not take extensive pictures of the transplant operation only one set of the two vehicles sitting side by side in mid operation.


My stay in Newfoundland was prolonged by the freak accident my wife had in which her car was totaled. If it had not been for the airbag she would have been uninjured, but the slide up a guard rail triggered the side airbag which cracked two ribs. If not for that she and her cousin would have emerged shaken but with no physical injuries. So I was involved in helping her get a new car and doing the necessaries which the bad ribs made excruciatingly painful for her till she had healed enough to carry on alone. I finally headed back to Ontario on the last ferry of the season departing September 29 from Argentia to North Sydney which saved me from having to drive the 1000 km to the Port au Basque ferry. I did the trans-border route through Maine and on to New York to save gas money and skirted Montreal in the US crossing the Border from New York state at the Thousand Island bridge. Again dropped some stuff off in Toronto for step-daughter and then home to Newbury.

April-May 2012

January 22, 2014

After Dean headed off to Newfoundland with the donor van, I continued to slog away at the window liners and bits of the finish of the solar chimney interior. I also did some caulking and painting on the top that I put on my utility trailer in preparation for the trek to Newfoundland and back. The initial plan was for me to go with my MPV and trailer to pick up a load of stored stuff to bring back to Ontario, and also to engage in helping with the transplant process on replacing the automatic (dead) transmission with the good clutch and transmission from the donor van. There was the possibility of both the VW camper and the MPV plus trailer would be moving west together, with a recruited additional driver. However that was not to happen. I headed to Newfoundland on April 3 with trailer in tow. Dropped down through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and then to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to take advantage of cheaper gas, and got to the ferry on the night of April 4, sailed at 6:30 the next morning and drove across the island arriving in St. John’s just before midnight.

Unfortunately the work on van conversion was not possible at that time, and the extra driver not possible either, so I loaded up the stuff in the trailer and headed back West on May 5. As before first the approximately 1000 km across the island, then the 6+ hr ferry ride, this time overnight trip, and hit the ground on the far side in the morning running. This trip I chose to stay north of the border the whole trip, did not relish the idea of having the entire trailer load of stuff torn apart by US customs looking for whatever. I made it to Montreal the second day on the mainland and Elena joined me by air. We spent a day visiting my daughter and Elena’s cousin, and then we drove together to Toronto, where we unloaded some items for my step-daughter. Then I went on to Newbury to unload the rest while she stayed for a visit with daughter and a HS friend from Buenos Aires.

After unloading the trailer and catching up on stuff around the house (grass etc) back to Toronto on the 18th, and a visit to the Picasso exhibit at the AGO.  After that  Elena was in Newbury for a several days and I showed her a bit of the countryside around the region as well as the lay of the land in London.   Then  up to Kitchener to visit friends, on the way to drop her off in Guelph for a conference at the University.   After the conference back to Toronto and on June 13 she flew back to Newfoundand.

March 2012

August 6, 2013

March I continued work on the interior window trim, and also set about retrieving the donor van from Kitchener.   My friend Don took me up to Kitchener where the money was transferred, and we got the transit licence I needed to move the van, to Newbury and eventually to Newfoundland.   Dean, my son-in-law had a trip scheduled to join some of his friends living in Toronto, and go to a rock concert (Van Halen).   When that was completed he took the train to Glencoe, where I picked him up and I had company for a few days, and we got the  interior of the solar chimney lined with whiteboard.  We checked out the van thoroughly and I loaned him a tool set just in case, and he was off.   Everything went very smoothly, he made it to the Ferrry  terminal in North Sydney in 29 hours.

January/February 2012

January 4, 2013

After returning from nearly  a month in the sun and sand in Sarasota, it was time to get back to work.   I laid out my agenda, which included: 1)  complete the stain and varnish of kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, 2) install whirlpool tub in master bath, 3) get and install doors for kitchen pantry, and laundry closet as well as for the entry closet, 4) get and install liner for solar chimney 5) get and install melamine liner in the kitchen and master bath window wells.   I did my due diligence shopping for the right doors, and price so ended up doing a trek across the border to Home Depot and Menards.   Came back with the pantry door, the closet doors, tile for the bathtub enclosure, and white board masonite for the lining of the solar chimney.    Then I got to work.

As  I was beavering away at the interior finish stuff, I got an email from my daughter saying that her husband Dean had discovered just the thing I needed.   I must first of all confess that I am an aficionado of VW camper vans, having had several over the years.    He had discovered a 95 Eurovan Camper in pristine condition, but with a broken automatic transmission at an unbelievable price.  They had decided I needed to have it, so now the deliberation began about dealing with the bad transaxle.  Internet research revealed that the Eurovans had a history of problems with the automatic trannies, and getting a good warrantied rebuild was going to cost upwards of $5K.   Dean who is a good mechanic, wondered about switching over to a manual transmission, a task he had done before on a couple pickups.   So again internet research and becoming a subscriber to the Eurovan mailing list and hunting through the archives.   It turns out that it is pretty straight-forward to do the transplant if you have a donor van, so I began the hunt on Craigslist and Kijiji looking for a suitable Eurovan with standard transmission.   After a near success, and one that was way to far away, I found one in Kitchener that met our criteria and was sound and drivable.

November 2011

September 24, 2012

November turned into a strange month in construction operations. I was preparing to drive to Newfoundland to spend the holidays with my wife, and to bring back a bunch of things for the house which had been stored. So in addition to finishing up the solar chimney facing, and making another increment in getting the kitchen cabinets installed, I designed and implemented a scheme for putting a top, and lockable doors on my utility trailer. This was also season for the various choirs in which I sing to have their final preparations for Christmas concerts so some extra out and about for that, the major one singing Messiah with the London Pro Musica and Symphony London the first week in December. As that approached conversations with Elena determined I was not going to Newfoundland for Christmas, but we were trekking to Sarasota, FL for a “white Christmas”, sand not snowūüôā The van minus trailer but with a bike rack went South rather than East for sun and fun. Below is what I accomplished before the Holiday exodus. Just to make life interesting in addition to a lot of beach time, we also did a sing-along Messiah in Sarasota…. can’t stop singing!

October 2011

September 24, 2012

October I had the focus on finishing the window trim and the Hardieboard paneling on the solar chimney. I set up a cutting area outside the garage with my trusty diamond blade in the skilsaw. Trim was cut and drilled for long tapcons which went into the stucco surrounding the windows. Actually went pretty quickly once I got into the routine.

The paneling on the solar chimney was a “horse of a different color”. The narrow sections on the south face were easy, and the East and West sides were harder but doable with one set of hands. However the North side was way too risky with just one person and I deferred that for while (see accomplishments for November).

I then started the prep work for the retaining wall planned for building a patio that runs from the outer edge of the screen porch to just past the door emerging from the great room. First step was to dig the trench for the footings and to put the forming boards in place, properly leveled for screeding the concrete when it was poured into the form. I as usual mixed my own concrete and wheel-barrowed to the forms as it was generated, and troweled the footing to give a smooth level base for the wall.

After a day or so of curing, I by now had moved many of my remaining partly damaged cement blocks to pallets adjacent to the footing and began the wall construction. First step as way back in building the main foundation walls, was to level the base layer of blocks, setting them in a mortar bed on the footing. Ater an overnight cure of the mortar, I then stacked the remaining two layers of blocks to get a wall that was 3 courses tall, e.g. 24 inches off the footing.

Now I started up my cement plant again and poured the stacked blocks full of concrete, vibrating it vigorously so no air voids in the wall. This gave me a resultant solid concrete wall. I raked the sand fill that had to be excavated to put in the footings to partially fill the enclosure provided by the retaining wall. Next Summer for the final effort on this. Pictures of the work done in October in the gallery below.


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